662 THE ADVOCATE
VOL. 78 PART 5 SEPTEMBER 2020
in some cases. We then requested and received new equipment for each
We then started using video equipment. I had asked the Attorney General
to provide more video equipment back in February to enable masters who
travel across the province and arrive at their assigned location only to discover
that the hearing list has collapsed to sit and hear matters remotely.
The Attorney General eventually secured a $2 million Treasury Board
allowance for, among other things, new phone and video equipment, and
we are now using that equipment.
When we started using our video equipment, however, we quickly discovered
that we lacked sufficient bandwidth. The system would freeze or shut
down in the middle of a hearing. The Attorney General has stepped up and
increased the bandwidth at many registries, and at no small cost. Once we
had sufficient bandwidth, we discovered that we needed two video screens
for each judge, each clerk, and each counsel, so we needed more equipment.
We then looked at gradually reopening some of the larger courtrooms for
in-person hearings and using Plexiglas to address some of the safety concerns.
Unfortunately, we discovered that all of the Plexiglas in British
Columbia had already been ordered. Miraculously, however, Court Services
managed to scoop 7-Eleven and get about a thousand sheets. But because of
social distancing requirements, we can use only about twenty per cent of
the space in the courtrooms. Some courtrooms can’t be used at all, except
to fit a clerk and a judge, who can hear cases by telephone.
The provincial government has really put its back into making sure
British Columbians have access to justice during this time. The Attorney
General has been very cooperative and very receptive to our requests, and
creative about how he’s dealing with them.
What else can the court do to promote access to justice using technology, and
what are the main challenges it faces in this regard?
Remote hearings were already in the cards for our court, but the pace of
progress has been accelerated as a result of COVID-19. When we consider
using electronic platforms, however, we have to think about privacy and
security issues. These are real concerns, and I don’t think we’ve found an
effective solution yet. This is one of the issues that is perhaps slowing down
what we might otherwise be doing with technology.
I have not agreed to allow witnesses to appear by video, other than
experts and police, who have traditionally done that. While some judges
have allowed witnesses to appear by video, those cases are very much the
exception. In my view, it is better that the trier of fact be able to see the witness
in person. There are also concerns about potential adulteration of evi-